Donald Trump paid just $750 in annual federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, according to tax records obtained by The New York Times.
But even that low sum is more than Trump paid the government in other recent years, according to the Times. In 10 out of the last 15 years, Trump paid no federal income tax, citing mammoth losses. The bombshell report offers new insight into Trump’s taxes, which Trump has bucked presidential candidate tradition by refusing to release.
Trump called the Times report “fake news” at a Sunday press conference.
“The New York Times has been doing fake story after fake story,” Trump said.
The Times said it would not reveal the sources of its information for fear of identifying them. But the paper also claimed that follow-up stories were coming. And it’s clear, from the first piece, that reporters there have copious amounts of primary documentation.
The tax data the paper obtained portrays Trump as financially pressed by loans and a tax dispute—a far cry from the model of a successful businessman that he has sold the public.
Trump is personally liable for over $300 million in debts that have to be paid off over the next four years, according to the report, including a $100 million one on Trump Tower in New York City. Trump is also embroiled in a tax refund fight with the IRS that could force him to pay more than $100 million, owing to the possibility that he may have inflated the losses he claimed using a tax provision passed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2009.
Trump writes off a wide array of expenses, according to the report, including his personal jet expenses and hair and makeup. Trump wrote off around $70,000 in hairstyling while filming The Apprentice, according to the report, as well as more than $95,000 in payments to a company that handled his daughter Ivanka Trump’s hair and makeup.
The tax data suggests that Trump has lowered his tax liability by paying his children, including Ivanka Trump, as a consultant for his businesses. The Times report flags $26 million in mysterious “consulting fees” made between 2010 and 2018, noting that some of the payments match payments Ivanka Trump has publicly disclosed. The paper suggested that Trump did this, potentially, to avoid paying gift taxes on the massive sums he was sending to his children—a method similar to what Trump’s own father, Fred Trump, famously was accused of using to prop up his son.
The tax information describes Trump and his businesses as scrambling for cash over the last decade—forced to take out loans and sell stocks. Trump sold more than $200 million in stock between 2014 and 2016, according to the report, with less than $1 million in securities remaining as of this summer.
Trump’s foreign business ventures, the Times reports, have put him in unprecedented conflicts of interest, with the duties of his office often intersecting with financial dealings that could affect him and his company.
Trump also faces towering personal debts, according to the tax data, with more than $421 million in debts personally guaranteed by the president. The paper speculates that he could use those debts as losses to stave off tax bills in the future.
The ability of Trump to do that, is, in part, the undercurrent of the story—which is primarily a look at the president’s finances but, secondarily, a criticism of America’s tax system. Tucked into the paper’s report is a damning graph that examines how Trump’s tax liabilities are far greater for his ventures overseas than they are at home.
"In 2017,” the Times writes, “the president’s $750 contribution to the operations of the U.S. government was dwarfed by the $15,598 he or his companies paid in Panama, the $145,400 in India and the $156,824 in the Philippines."
Journalists and House Democrats, among others, have long sought Trump’s tax data. Trump bucked precedent in 2016 when he refused to release his tax returns, becoming the first major party nominee in 40 years not to release their returns. Trump has fought efforts to obtain his tax returns, seeking to block attempts to get the returns in court fights. He has claimed, throughout, that he is prohibited from releasing his tax data—something all presidents since Richard Nixon have done—because he is under a routine audit. On that front, at least, he appears to have been telling the truth.
Predictably, across Trumpworld, operatives, campaign advisers, and media allies sought to keep working the refs—mainly, the news media and the IRS—and brushing off yet another piece of reporting that would have powered a lengthy news cycle for virtually any other modern American politician.
“I think our people hate the IRS and The New York Times about equally, so I don’t think it will change things” ahead of the election, said former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), now a Trump surrogate. “They are far more focused on their own income and well-being.”
Others working to re-elect the president suspected—or simply hoped for—the same, as Trump continued to lag in the election polling released over the weekend and as he heads into his first debate against Joe Biden on Tuesday. “It doesn’t hurt,” said one senior administration official, adding a pang of concern: “It doesn’t help, though.”